LANSING — Democrat Joe Biden officially won Michigan by 154,188 votes, the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers affirmed Monday in certifying election results contested by Republican President Donald Trump.
The vote, supported by both Democratic canvassers and Republican Aaron Van Langevelde, is a major blow to Trump’s long-shot bid to overturn results because of unsubstantiated fraud claims that so far have been rejected or dismissed in court.
“We have a duty to certify based on these returns,” said Van Langevelde, a Charlotte attorney, referencing results already certified by officials in all 83 Michigan counties.
“We’re not a court here. We don’t have judicial power. We don’t have the authority to conduct a trial on whether election fraud occurs.”
Certification means Biden will win all 16 Michigan electors, moving him a step closer to the White House as the 46th president of the United States. If unofficial results are certified in other states, he’ll beat Trump 306-232 in the Electoral College.
Trump still has 48 hours to request a recount in Michigan, which experts say could be expensive and unlikely to succeed because of Biden’s margin, which is more than 14 times larger than Trump’s 10,704-vote win here four years ago.
“The people of Michigan have spoken,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a national co-chair for Biden’s campaign, said in a statement after the vote. “Now, it’s time to put this election behind us and come together as a state to defeat our common enemy: COVID-19.”
The lone holdout on the four-member, bipartisan canvassing board was Republican Norm Shinkle, a former state senator. He abstained from the final vote but had lobbied to delay the process and audit Wayne County and Detroit, citing claims of irregularities.
“All citizens need to be assured that Michigan is conducting clean, accurate and professional elections,” Shinkle said in calling for an “in-depth” legislative review of statewide procedures and processes.
Democratic canvasser Julie Matuzak agreed with that call, but not Shinkle’s position on certification.
She suggested the Legislature should change Michigan’s election system to improve it, in large part because the pandemic and voting reforms meant the majority of more than 5.5 million voters in November cast ballots by mail.
Matuzak said election law has not been changed to keep up with the reforms, particularly stringent limits on pre-processing absentee ballots.
“I believe the purpose of this board is to assure voters that every vote is counted, and that procedures are fair for everyone,” Matuzak said. “I see no evidence of fraud, but there’s lots of human error in how we do things. I think we need to seriously look at that. I think we need to fix that.”
While Shinkle complained about Wayne County results, numerous municipal clerks and citizens urged canvassers to uphold the will of the people. The meeting, which started at 1 p.m., was still ongoing at 5 p.m. with public comments.
Michigan Elections Director Jonathan Brater called the vote tallies a “labor of love” by officials in 1,600 separate Michigan municipalities who ran elections “unprecedented in scope and in difficulty” because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a flood of absentee ballots.
“The bureau has not identified any irregularities this year aside from the typical occasional human error that is always part of the process,” Brater said, contradicting claims from the Trump campaign and allies. “Overall we had an extremely well run and secure election.”
Republicans have questioned results in Detroit, in particular, because 70 percent of the city’s absentee ballot precincts were “out of balance,” meaning the number of ballots did not exactly match the number of voters listed in poll books.
Brater called those “clerical errors” and noted there were actually more of those same mistakes in Detroit during the August primary and the 2016 election that Trump won by just 10,704 votes. “By any metric, November was a better run election in Detroit.”
Daniel Baxter, who oversaw the counting of Detroit absentee ballots, said the election was a “great day of pride” that involved a massive effort because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox urged canvassers to delay certification and investigate those irregularities in Detroit and Wayne County.
“Election after election, we’ve had the same issues,” she said. “We certify and then forget until the next election. If folks are proud of a 71 percent out of balance count in our largest community in the state, then we have very different ideas.”
An attorney for GOP U.S. Senate candidate John James, who has not yet conceded to incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, despite an unofficial loss of 92,337 votes, also urged canvassers to delay certification.
“If you take the rubber-stamp approach, that you’re not allowed to have any discretion, that makes your job meaningless,” Charlie Spies told canvassers.
But Van Langevelde, who works for the Michigan House Republican caucus, sparred with Spies and repeatedly disagreed with his assessment that canvassers could do anything but certify.
“We have no authority to request an audit, to delay or block certification,” he said, echoing analyses from several Michigan election attorneys. “The statute couldn’t be any more clear.”
Former Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas, who helped run Detroit’s election this year as a senior adviser, agreed.
“Our system is a zero-sum operation,” he said. “You got winners, you got losers. We don’t have any ties. Everyone doesn’t get a trophy.”
Trump efforts to undermine results
The typically obscure Board of State Canvassers was the focus of intense interest on Monday, a focal point in Trump’s ongoing effort to undermine election results showing he lost to Biden by more than 6 million votes nationwide.
At one point, more than 800 speakers had signed up to address the canvassers and tens of thousands watched a live stream from around the world.
CNN broadcast live outside the Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s headquarters in downtown Lansing on Monday morning, and a few dozen pro-Trump supporters gathered outside the building mid-day for a “stop the steal” rally.
“The fraud that we have witnessed is so massive, and so well coordinated, it’s evil incarnate,” said Bob Cushman of Northville, who worked as a GOP poll challenger at Detroit’s absentee ballot counting board and filed an affidavit deemed “not credible” by a Republican-appointed just in Wayne County Circuit Court.
The Michigan Democratic Party parked a mobile billboard near the GOP gathering with a message urging officials not to “steal the election” because the voters have “spoken.”
Democratic activists gathered outside the Michigan Capitol, where they were joined by an interfaith alliance of religious leaders including Rev. Ed Rowe of the Central United Methodist Church in Detroit and Imam Muhammad Ali Elahi from the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights.
“It’s not really about the personalities and the parties anymore,” Elahi said. “It’s about principle. It’s about basic decency and truth and fairness. The voters must be honored and recognized, and for Trump to stop rejecting the democratic result of the election.”
‘America at work’
The vote capped a week of drama and intrigue that after the Wayne County Board of Canvassers deadlocked on a 2-2 certification last week before two Republican members reconsidered.
After a phone call from Trump, two Republicans on the board filed affidavits requesting they rescind their approval, a move state officials said was impossible. One of the Republicans, Monica Palmer, told state canvassers on Monday that she was tricked into voting to reconsider by the false promise of a state audit.
The reversal prompted Trump to falsely declare Michigan’s results uncertified and Cox and the Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel to ask the state canvassers he board to delay certification for two weeks for an audit.
That would have delayed certification to Dec. 7, one day before the “safe harbor” deadline for states to certify elections before courts or the state Legislature could intervene.
Trump encouraged the possibility, hosting Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, and other Republicans on Friday at the White House.
“Hopefully the courts and/or Legislatures will have the COURAGE to do what has to be done to maintain the integrity of our Elections, and the United States of America itself,” the president wrote on Twitter.
Trump’s claims of electoral fraud, debunked by courts, focused on Detroit, and a Bridge Michigan analysis found that unbalanced precincts likely account for fewer than 500 votes.
Mary Ellen Gurewitz, a lawyer for the Michigan Democratic Party, said Trump wanted to disenfranchise Black voters” and was “motivated by racism.”
In a Monday statement, Chatfield criticized what he called “conspiracy theories” about a potential electoral college coup by the Republican-led Legislature.
“The board fulfilled its legal duties today in certifying the results, and now our democratic process can move forward,” he said. “This is America at work.”